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The Chagall Suite

A commissioned 8-movement piano piece inspired by Marc Chagall's artworks, and a tribute to Chagall and Elvis


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Trip 22 -- NYC-Boston Walk

Day 5: Hamden to Portland

Today: 52675 steps/44.72 km/27.79 mi/8h 28m
Total: 179686 steps/184.20 km/114.46 mi/34h 24m

The Clarion Suites offers a to-go breakfast bag in lieu of their usual hot offerings. I ask what's in it and the receptionist says, "Not much. Let me check."

She retrieves one from the back and peers inside. "There's a muffin, a breakfast bar, and juice. Or maybe it's applesauce."

"Well, whatever it is, I'll pour it down my throat and it'll be fine."

The contents are already more appealing than what was on display at the Quality Suites. It turns out to be one of those prepackaged muffins that are too sweet and held together by chemicals, perhaps the ones that kept that grandmother's burger in edible condition for nearly a quarter-century. The applesauce isn't sweet enough, so it balances out the muffin. Those are bulky items and get downed right away. The apple-cinnamon bar goes into the back sleeve of my backpack, to be forgotten about for the rest of the day.

I've gotten out five minutes earlier than yesterday. It's just before nine and traffic is roaring on Whitney Avenue. I reach Dixwell Avenue and a plaque in a modest but colorful garden tells me that the town is named for the English statesman John Hampden and was incorporated in 1786. Nearby was the country's first truss bridge. Across the street another marker honors Hamden residents of Italian descent, and next to it are a campanile and electronic carillon bells dedicated in honor of one of them.

I turn onto Dixwell. There's no place to walk, and the traffic is fast. The whole day is going to be like this. It's the second-longest distance I'll walk during this trip, just over a marathon. Tomorrow is longer by a hair, but at least half of it will be on a hiking trail. Today I'll be spending a lot of time shooing drivers into the oncoming lane. I don't want a crash, of course, but a close call might just get it into their heads that towns are for people, not metal.

A sidewalk appears, but it's only long enough to get me to the next building. Then it appears again, in front of Art's Television & Appliance: fourteen glorious squares before it gives way to grass. Across the street is the North of Havana Cigar Lounge & Oxygen Bar. How are those two things compatible?

A sign points to the Hard Hat Cafe, in the same typeface as its Hard Rock counterpart, and then I cross under Interstate 91. This is the highway that divides Connecticut into its east and west halves, and when I'm on the east side, I feel as though I'm that much closer to Boston. But then I soon cross it again, and I'm back in the west.

I spend a mile and a half on Pool Road. A lot of the homes are split-level, a fair number of them identical in design. Many people have placed cut-outs of red hearts on their doors or their lawns, with some saying "Thank you," to honor the essential workers who continue to get us through this year. It's a lovely, unifying, nonpolitical way to pay tribute. Who can argue with a "Thank you"?

At 179 Pool Road a person is practicing the drums. There's another drummer twelve minutes later. I wonder whether they know each other. It's a warm sign of life inside, the playing of live music.

It's once again overcast and fairly cool. The delivery of mail and newspapers is accomplished as it has been for decades. A battered car comes by and someone is throwing the papers onto each walkway. The mail truck has the driver's side on the right, and he pries open each box and inserts the goods. On some streets, all the mailboxes are on one side. A red two-story house proudly states, "Built 1750."

My 16,000th step takes me just shy of the home of Jack Winkleman. A black sign with uneven white hand-painted lettering says, "Justice of Peace"; his profile on the LocalPrayers Web site touts, "I marry EVERYONE! No problem! Available on short notice." Another sign on his property, done in the same hand, advertises, "Quality Golf Balls! $5.00 Doz. 'U-Pick-Em' or .75 Each Ball." I look toward the house and there's Jack, lining up his balls neatly, in what appear to be egg crates.

I cross Interstate 91 for the last time and there's the old Wallingford rail terminal, with a few graffiti-sprayed railcars and the aroma of a nearby farm. A cart advertises "Veggies," but it's empty. At step 22,000, I pass Perreault's Bee's Sweet Farm ("Local Honey for Sale"), but the product must be some distance away. It occurs to me that I've walked for nearly three hours without having the opportunity to buy anything, except for golf balls.

I'm now in Wallingford, and I turn onto Route 68. It's a horrible road, a speedy lane in each direction and the narrowest of walking space. What's worse is that the road is heavily used by trucks. A "Wide Load" comes at me as I enter. There are a garbage truck, a four-by-four, a vehicle used to carry other cars, another oversize load, a yellow Trans Am (just for fun), a flatbed truck, and vehicles for carrying and dumping raw materials. At the offices of Tilcon, a provider of stone, concrete, and asphalt, there's a giant "Thank You" heart outside, and they seem to thank me by having one of their vehicles roll out and kick up dust in my face. Route 68 is totally unrewarding and I can't wait to leave it.

It's a long two miles, but eventually I head north on Route 157. I startle a raccoon, and its sudden scuttling away startles me, too. A Magnakleen truck goes by. It's a dust-control company, and it has the imaginative slogan "We Keep Facilities Clean," complete with the quotation marks. Is that really the catchiest thing they could think of?

I'm now in Middlefield. There's been no sign of a restaurant, and I've walked for more than four hours. The grounds of the Lyman orchards sprawl for miles, it seems. In addition to pick-your-own fruit, there are a golf club and a corn maze. There's also a farm stand, and I wonder whether it will provide a full meal.

The place is giant and packed. It's like a supermarket, with a bakery, ice cream, and produce. I find the area where they sell sandwiches and I order a sandwich with chicken, cheddar, and the orchard's own sliced apples. They're out of chicken, but turkey makes a fine substitute. I also pick up some cider and a Cherry Coke.

I head outside, where there are a pond and screaming kids. The sandwich doesn't hold together well, and it needs more meat, but it comes with homemade chips that fill me up. As I finish, a tattooed man comes by in a T-shirt that says, "Wuhan Wild Wings -- So Good, It's Contagious." He's with a woman and a child who presumably have the misfortune to be members of his household. I hope he'll take his racism into the corn maze and get lost, although I don't want his presence to spoil the corn.

The center of Middlefield has everything neatly together: a post office, a library (both in attractive houses), a fire department, and a large central green with a bell. Town Hall Road, I assume, gives access to the town hall, which seems to have on the side a forlorn basketball net. Then there are the white Middlefield Federated Church, the Middlefield Community Center, and the Middlefield Children's Center, with a cemetery behind it. Middlefield still lacks a restaurant, however, and it's not until I've reached the little town of Rockfall that I find a pizzeria and gulp down a bottle of water.

It's a vicious circle. There are no pedestrians, so there are no sidewalks, and because there are no sidewalks there are no pedestrians. I've seen no one else on foot since those fourteen sidewalk squares back in North Haven. A dog barks at me, and then the dog next door barks at me. "Hello, both of you!" I shout back.

There's a lonely train track and somewhere a rooster is crowing, and there's another dog. It's house after house and sometimes several minutes between intersections. A sprinkler is feeding someone's backyard pool, and I wish I could jump in.

At step 43,000, a few blocks down from Wesleyan University in Middletown, there's the two-story red Jehosaphat Starr house, quite similar to the one "Built 1750" and dating from the same era. The son of a tailor, Starr was a soldier in the Revolutionary War who was captured by the British but later released and lucky enough to come home and raise nine kids with his wife.

I cross the Charles J. Arrigoni Bridge over the Connecticut River. On the other side is Portland, which beckons, "Come on over," in large white letters. That's where I'll be staying -- who knew there was a Portland in Connecticut, besides Wesleyan students? I feel so close. I reach step 46,000, and the bells of St. Mary Church tell me that it's 5:00. It should be only a half-hour to go.

I'm on Route 66, and the day is destined to end as it began: with noisy highway traffic. At least there's a sidewalk, I write in my notes. "And then it went away," I have to add less than a minute later.

I cut across Sand Hill Road. I'm nearing the end of my marathon. The house I grew up in near Boston is down the street from that city's marathon route, along a section known as Heartbreak Hill. It's a long, slow climb that starts around the 21st mile.

Sand Hill Road is my Heartbreak Hill. It's the last mile, and it goes up and up. It gets quieter and quieter and it feels as though I'm ascending into the heavens. There are no cars, just the sounds of what's in the trees. The top is a forest, and then the road brings me down again. There are birds and cicadas, and I find myself saying hello to them.

A sign says "Q-P Farm Mkt." My hotel should be just down the highway. Where the hell is it? I arrive at the Winchester Cafe and see that it's not open on Tuesdays. And the Eggs Up restaurant farther down isn't open for dinner. Now I do check the map, just to make sure there's something to eat.

There isn't, at least not where I can be served. But the Q-P Farm Market has me covered, with local goods. I buy way too much: cherry tomatoes, an Early Mac apple, a peach, a spinach-broccoli-sausage "scacciata" (like a piece of quiche), and a jar of blue-cheese-stuffed olives. There are raw-milk cheeses made nearby in Colchester, and I have no idea what all the flavors are, but the one called Vivace Bambino sounds musical. I pick up grape, honey, and raspberry sodas, all made in Connecticut. And a small apple pie. I have romantic notions of finding an outdoor spot at the Solano Inn and spreading out this repast.

I finally reach the Solano, and I don't expect much. It's in several buildings with stickered room numbers of the boring kind you find in hardware stores, and the outdoor lights are havens for spiders and flying insects. The receptionist has me sign a statement agreeing to a $30 charge if the linens are unusable when I depart. What do they think I might do with them?

But then I enter the room, and it's beautiful. It is sparklingly clean and smells of new wood. It has a large white dining table and large prints of peacocks on the wall. There are plenty of electric outlets and a refrigerator. It feels more like a room in a boutique hotel than a highway motel.

It also has guest laundry, and this is the day I need it. Bryan at the front desk is particularly helpful. We speak in a mixture of English and Spanish. He exchanges bills for quarters and gives me a free cup of detergent -- it has to be too much, and I'll guess at the amount, leaving two-thirds of the cup for someone else.

I enter the laundry room. Another woman has just put her clothes in, but there are two washers and two dryers. I get mine in the other washer, and someone comes to inspect her clothes in the upper dryer. They haven't progressed much. She seems a little drunk. I ask where she's from, and she mentions names of little towns in Connecticut that I don't recognize. She can't tell whether the machine is working. I show her that she has to press the "Start" button after putting quarters in. She says I can put her stuff in the basket on the floor if she hasn't retrieved it in time.

It's dark out, but there are an almost-full moon and a lamp shining onto a picnic table. Bryan gives me a bottle opener and tells me to keep it until the morning. I break out my food. Much of it is a little bland: the cheese, the olives, the scacciata. The peach, apple, and tomatoes, though, are fresh, sweet, and juicy. I try to guess when the wash will be done, and after about 40 minutes I go down to check.

It's still running, and so is the other machine. Hers hits the final spin cycle, and mine does less than a minute later. She's not there. The drunk woman's clothes are still in the upper dryer, but the lower one is available. The race is on. The other washer shakes and rattles in its final cycle; mine has a smaller load and remains calm. Hers winds down. It starts to tick to a halt. Five...four...three...two...

And she opens the door. Both our machines end at the same time, but she has first dibs on the dryer. I didn't expect such a laundry frenzy.

"I'd let you go ahead," she says. "But I have to go to work tonight."

"Thanks; it's no problem," I say. "I may let them dry out in my room. I'm here for just one night, but I get the sense that some people stay much longer."

"Oh, yes," she says. "A lot of us live here permanently. I've been here for two years."

She tells me about herself. She works in private hospice; she does 12-hour overnight shifts, helping people in their homes. "My stuff will definitely be out of the dryer before eleven, because that's when I go to work." She sometimes works 50 or 60 hours a week, except, of course, when she didn't work at all for two months earlier this year. "I used to live in an eight-room house. I miss it."

I return to my room and spread my clothes around to dry, heading back to retrieve the one sock that of course has fallen in the stairwell. I enjoy my food outside a bit longer, and then I come in.

I pick one of the two remote controls and it turns on the television set. There's a menu of things I don't recognize; there seem to be channels under a setting called TV Plus. I've never heard of most of them. There are channels called People Are Awesome, Brat TV, the Dove Channel, Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, Fubo Sports Network. One channel is devoted entirely to the game show "Let's Make a Deal." No matter what I pick, though, it spits back, "TV Plus is not available."

I don't know what I press -- perhaps it was a button called Fry My Brain -- but somehow I get MTV on the screen. I try to turn the channel up and down, but the screen retorts, "Not available." MTV is the only option.

On the program, a middle-aged mother and her daughter are screaming at each other. The mother has had enough and prepares to storm out. The daughter is yelling at such a high volume that it sounds as if she has activated a superhuman overdrive setting. Usually only two-year-olds throwing tantrums are capable of this kind of window-piercing noise.

For no reason I can understand, the mother stays around for another minute or two in order to yell back, "Don't talk to me like that!" Again and again. Then, finally, she leaves.

The daughter starts to mess with her microphone. "Take this mike off me before I f---ing lose my cool."

The program is eventually revealed to be "Teen Mom 2." The mom looked to me to be in her late forties, but maybe that kind of yelling ages you.

I'm glad there's pie.

Go on to day 6